E-readers and tablets and smartphones oh my.
December 24, 2012 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I can't decide if a tablet or an e-reader AND a new phone* is more suitable for my purposes. I don't know much about either market which is why I come to you guys for advice.

My main goal is to spend less time on the Internet and more time reading. I waste a great deal of time on the computer, time that I'd rather spend reading and writing. This is why I thought about the e-reader. I had a Kindle several years ago when they first launched that I liked but it broke down on me twice with a weird burn-in issue. But while I had it, I read a lot more due to the easy access to all my books, to periodicals (which I had never spent much time reading but read all the time on my Kindle), and due to the form factor. It also made me feel less physically fatigued than reading a book did.

The problem is, I'm doing a lot of research and reading for my writing these days and most of those come in the form of PDF articles and I know that e-readers in general have been pretty poor at PDF readability and displaying PDFs. That said, these articles are almost entirely text so there are very few graphs or charts to fiddle with. And that's to say nothing of the graphic novels that I'd like to read too.

In addition, I also take a lot of notes as I read. And from what I've read, the onscreen keyboards for the e-readers are not the fastest nor the most accurate. Now, I'm not writing big blocks of text, but I do write notes pretty frequently. Tablets would have a much better keyboard or opportunities for external keyboards.

As far as e-readers go, I want one with light. So I'm between the Kindle Paperwhite and the Nook Glolight, leaning very heavily towards the Paperwhite. And as far as tablets, I want a smaller size too, which is why I'm gunning for the iPad Mini or maybe the Kindle Fire HD.

*The bit about the new phone: For the price of a tablet, I can get an e-reader and upgrade my phone. My current phone (Optimus V) is old and terrible and by upgrading my phone (to an HTC Evo V or One V), then I'd have that internet access when I need it for things like reading blogs/internet articles, listening to music/podcasts, etc., which is primarily what I'd use a tablet for, or so I'd think having never had a tablet or used a tablet. My current phone can do these things, but not very well at all.

What would you guys recommend I do? Do y'all have experience with PDFs and graphic novels on e-readers/on the Paperwhite?
posted by Modica to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have the Kindle Paperwhite, but observations should map pretty well to the Nook. E-ink devices excel at the single-purpose of longform prose reading, without distractions getting in the way (such as, oh, that passing thought that passage inspired is something I could google stuff about right now on this very screen and since I'm already googling I may as well check my email and catch up on some blogs and and). So your instincts there are good.

But your reservations are good as well. Simple pdf conversion usually works variably okay, but strong stress on the "simple" and still a bit of stress on the "variably" there. Charts and graphics will tend to become practically useless even if technically they don't wreck the formatting otherwise, and sometimes even columns of pure text can result in weird results like converters interleaving the lines across the columns instead of handling the text more intelligently, thus garbling the entire attempt.

The thought of trying to read a graphic novel not specifically designed for that specific e-ink device is just comical. Current-generation e-ink's great at text, basically, and terrible at scaling graphics.

The keyboard is a bit sluggish, but may be less of a negative impact. This'll depend more on how verbose you tend to be when annotating. If I were using a Kindle or similar for more scholarly approaches, I think what I'd personally do is use the in-device annotations as shorthand crossreferences to a separate set of notes I'd keep either in old-fashioned longhand notebook, or a laptop or whatnot. You could use that sort of dual-note approach if you get a smartphone, and could jot or record notes on something like Evernote or other notetaking app that'll let you easily transfer them to a computer for serious working-on purposes.

So a lot of it comes down to whether you think your primary problems are going to be dealing with distractions from a tablet that can do all sorts of shiny distracting things that'd get in the way of just sitting down and concentrating on reading, or if it'd be needing to read shorter, more graphical/funky-formatted documents and have a more user-friendly and responsive way to take notes on the same device.
posted by Drastic at 12:16 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nexus 7. Though I am completely biased as I am madly in love with mine. You can get some great swipe keyboards for it so it's nice and easy to write notes. I got mine for pretty much the same reason you did and have ended up using it for so much more. You can still use a Kindle reader on the nexus and buy ebooks from amazon if that is a concern but you get access to a lot of stuff in other formats.

I find it handles PDF's Ok but the screen is small and if that was all you were reading I'd suggest a larger tablet. I can read basic PDFs on my Nook OK, not great but OK and it is clunkier to do.

The main disadvantages I find of a tablet over my Nook Touch (I don't have the Glolight version) is that as Drastic mentioned it is easy to get distracted as you can still get online, though I do find I tend to read more longform articles and treat the internet more as a magazine when using my tablet. Also I find as I look at screens all day that after a long day my eReader is just easier on my poor abused eyeballs.
posted by wwax at 12:24 PM on December 24, 2012

I love my Paperwhite (and the Kindle Touch before it), but I abhor reading pdfs on it, and these are all-text, single-column creatures. I rarely take notes, but when I have to use the keyboard I get impatient and make mistakes even with short bits of text.

I read pdfs on my laptop and books on my Paperwhite and my phone (an iphone).
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am leaning towards the e-reader/phone route. The things that I can't read on an e-reader are few and far between. PDFs I can read on my laptop (and when I upgrade my laptop from my MacBook to a MacBook Air, that will be simple to carry around everywhere). The note-taking aspect of things...I'll do what I can with the e-reader and do like what Drastic said, take brief notes to remind myself of stuff going into my computer or into my notebook later on.

Because I know for a fact that I will be very easily distracted on a tablet. So many shiny things, fun things. But I need to be able to concentrate and to let myself go into a book or into a text.
posted by Modica at 1:25 PM on December 24, 2012

The Paperwhite is excellent value for money for straight reading, and I'd probably advise getting one in addition to anything else. I just plain haven't had good luck with PDFs on anything, with even larger tablets being too small and requiring zooms and scrolls, but that's going to depend on PDF content - I look at a lot of RPG materials where they favour fiddly formatting.
posted by Artw at 1:40 PM on December 24, 2012

I quit using my smartphone in the house once I bought a 7" tablet. I don't use my phone for gaming or reading at all any more, which I wouldn't have predicted. I still use the phone when out and about to find places, navigate, text, call, etc.

I'd buy a 7" tablet and don't connect it to Wifi automatically if you're worried about distractions. It will better read your PDFs and magazines, has Pocket for reading long-form articles and has a Kindle/Nook/Google books/Apple app for reading books. All of those can be done offline. Worry about upgrading your phone later if you still think you need it.
posted by cnc at 1:41 PM on December 24, 2012

A decent smartphone is going to be just as distracting as any tablet, FWIW.
posted by Artw at 1:42 PM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I got a kindle because I was always getting sidetracked/distracted when reading on the iPad. It's not as good as the iPad when it comes to PDFs though, so if you can be disciplined, then the tablet would be better I think.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:42 PM on December 24, 2012

On the phone front, I just got a Note 2 which is sort of a comically-large smartphone (the screen is 5.5") and after the requisite day or so of tweaking and adjusting I absolutely adore it. I got it because I had been doing a lot of reading and web browsing on my previous phone and wanted something better for that, but thought that it would be sort of idiotic to carry a phone, laptop, and tablet around everywhere. It does an admirable job of bridging the gap. (It works great as a phone and fits perfectly well in a pocket, by the way.)

A similar solution might work for you as well. You might consider getting an e-reader for most of your reading needs, and a "phablet" (that is what the marketers want to call this size of device, and the term is so ridiculous that I kind of love it) like the Note 2 (pretty much the only device in its class at the moment) for those times when you need to view something that doesn't work well on an e-reader. Then you would have most of the best features of a smart phone, tablet, and e-reader but with only two devices rather than three.

Seriously, look into it. At first glance you will be like "lol wut that is too big for a phone" but I swear after half an hour of actually using it you will be wondering why all other smartphones are so tiny and cramped. It looks a bit silly next to a "normal" phone but to me anyway the larger size just feels totally natural in use.
posted by Scientist at 8:52 PM on December 25, 2012

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